- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Fears for democracy

Former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday that he is worried about the future of democracy in Latin America, where grinding poverty and corruption in some countries threaten the advances made throughout the hemisphere toward elected governments and free markets.

Mr. Carter, inaugurating a lecture series at the Organization of American States, added that some of the ambassadors in the audience represent governments that have failed to live up to the OAS Democratic Charter.

“Across the hemisphere, [public opinion] polls reveal that many citizens are dissatisfied with the performance of their elected government,” he said.

“They still believe in the promise and the principles of democracy, but they do not believe their governments have delivered the promised improvements in living standards, freedom from corruption and equal access to justice.”

Mr. Carter warned the OAS leaders that unless they improve those conditions, “we run the very real risk that dissatisfaction with the performance of elected governments will transform into disillusionment with democracy itself.”

Mr. Carter specifically mentioned Guyana, “racked with racial tension and political stalemate”; Haiti, “unable to escape the tragedy of violence and extreme poverty”; and Nicaragua, “enmeshed in political deadlock and poverty that is second only to Haiti.”

In a reference to Venezuela, where leftist President Hugo Chavez has cracked down on dissent, Mr. Carter noted only a “deep political rift.” Some critics have chastised Mr. Carter for approving the results of a failed recall referendum against Mr. Chavez last year.

“Mr. Carter turned a blind eye [to reports of vote fraud] and endorsed the highly suspect returns,” Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, wrote in a column in The Washington Times last month.

Mr. Carter also has been criticized for a trip in 2002 to Cuba, where he said he saw signs of “openness and reform” in the government of dictator Fidel Castro. Mr. Carter did use a TV address to support a pro-democracy movement, but the movement was crushed after his visit.

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Carter called on the OAS to make the Democratic Charter “more than empty pieces of paper” by adopting measures to punish nations that violate democratic principles.

“Let us strengthen the charter and not be afraid to use it,” he said. “Right now, the charter is weak because it is vague in defining conditions that would constitute a violation of the charter.”

Despite his criticism, Mr. Carter recognized the success the OAS has achieved from the days when it was little more than a debating club of regional dictators.

“As a promoter of freedom, democracy and human rights, the OAS is one of the foremost regional organizations in the world,” he said.

Japan pleased

Japan believes it is getting a direct link to the White House with the appointment of one of President Bush’s oldest business friends as the new U.S. ambassador in Tokyo.

Although a few observers were concerned that Thomas Schieffer lacks knowledge of Japan, most were pleased with the choice, according to newspaper reports.

The Asahi Shimbun said, “While Schieffer is a novice in Japanese affairs and has few ties with this country, his relationship with Bush is such that he has direct access to the president.”

The Japan Times noted that some observers feel slighted by the choice because previous U.S. ambassadors have had high-level political careers. Current Ambassador Howard H. Baker Jr. is a former Senate majority leader. The previous ambassador, Thomas Foley, was speaker of the House of Representatives. An earlier ambassador, Walter F. Mondale, served as a senator and vice president.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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